Hello, it's B! I’m kicking off my Bisbi blogging adventure with a trip down memory lane, as I reminisce on my natural hair journey. The journey to loving our natural hair in all its kinks and curls is something most black women can relate to. For many of us, it probably starts with the pain of combing our hair. Maybe we remember the excitement of getting our first relaxed. Or maybe it's the big chop that stands out.
Natural hair in Nigeria
I was born in Bauchi, Northern Nigeria. I am fortunate to have parents who blessed me with very thick hair. Unfortunately as a child, this did not seem like a blessing. My mom cannot braid or cornrow so she would take my two sisters and I to the local market where the hair braiders would do the work. If you're familiar with Nigeria, you know that the local markets have everything you can think of to survive daily living. Food, clothes, butchers, barbers, hair stylists, manicures, and lots of people. I HATED it.
The braiders were not gentle at all, and I remember how bad my neck and scalp would hurt afterwards. A few times, they braided my hair so tightly that my scalp would get inflamed and my mom would have to take down the cornrows the same day. The ladies at the market would marvel at how thick and long my hair was, but would complain cos it was tedious work - braiding thicker hair meant spending more time. In a country as populous as Nigeria where a good market braider has numerous clients waiting for her to work her magic on their hair, this is not ideal Some ladies would turn down braiding my hair if they didn’t have enough time. Sometimes, my hair would break their combs as they tried to run it through the maze that was my 4c hair. They weren’t impressed. And neither was my scalp.
In my early teens, I learnt to cornrow and braid my own hair. At that point, my mom stopped taking us to the market but would hire a local young hair braiders for the day to come to our house. I found the process very intriguing and would watch them closely. I eventually started braiding my sisters’ hair and my own as well. It felt very liberating being able to braid my hair on my own terms, and most importantly gently and based on my pain tolerance. I always hated washing and combing, but we’ll get to that later.
High school in Botswana
When I was 15, my family left Nigeria. Religious conflict in Nigeria was becoming more ferquent and Bauchi increasingly became a very unsafe place to live. Sometimes we wouldn't be able to go to school cos the city was essentially on lock down due to religious violence. My family feared for our safety and my parents were determined to get us out of the city. We originally tried to move to the UK but that did not work out. So my mom got a job at the University of Botswana and we all moved there. Life in Botswana was complete culture shock. Although situated on the African continent, Southern Africa looks very different from West Africa. Completely different languages, food, traditions, educational system, etc. I made some friends at my high school but life at home was becoming increasingly unstable due to my father's abusive behaviour.
While writing this this, I realized that I don’t have any pictures of me during my high school years in Botswana. I wasn’t the happiest teenager. But here’s a picture of me a few months after I graduated. Creamy crack on full effect in my hair.
Relaxing my natural hair
Having relaxed hair was never an important part of my identity. I don’t remember exactly when I asked my mom for the creamy crack, and I can’t say I know exactly why it’s called the creamy crack other than the fact that relaxers are creamy and addictive like crack. Although I don’t remember how old I was, I remember the feeling of being a teenager about to get her first relaxer. Excitement about no more pain while deetangling, no more pain on wash days, and no more pain while braiding. Mixed with excitement about the endless possibilities of straight hair, excitement about not having to deal with shrinkage anymore. But also fear. I had heard some horror stories about relaxers burning people’s face and scalp. My mom was very cautious when applying it and using the neutralizer shampoo provided in the relaxer kit, and also liberally applying Vaseline to the perimeters of my scalp.
An important part of the relaxer experience is the tingle. When your hair starts tingling, it’s a sign that the relaxer is working and ready to washed off. For reasons I am unsure of, it always took more than the recommended time on the instruction manual to get my hair to tingle. Looking back, it’s probably because my hair is so thick and kinky. When it finally started to tingle, I was excited for my mom to wash it off and to see my transformed hair.
“Oh I thought”...my hair wasn’t as straight as I imagined, and definitely not as straight as the girl on the relaxer packaging. At the time, I'd never heard of a hair straightener so I assumed the girl on the package had sleek hair just from applying the relaxer.
Oh well. Teenage me was still very excited to rock my straighter hair to school on Monday. My friends at school loved my new length and complimented me on the length and thickness of my hair. What a great life, I thought. A few weeks later, my hair started to revert to its natural texture which was not supposed to happen for a few months. I was not impressed. My mom thought it was too soon to get another relaxer so I had to stick it out. The transition months meant I had to go back to cornrowing my hair as I waited for my next relaxer.
A lot of my friends in Botswana had relaxed hair, and I think this peer pressure contributed to why I asked my mom to relax mine too. Braiding my hair in Botswana was a more pleasant experience - the salons were less chaotic and nobody complained about my hair being too thick.
Natural hair in North Dakota, USA
I moved to North Dakota for university when I was 19. This was complete culture shock. The night before I left for Botswana, my family and I checked the weather and it was -37F. We dismissed this as a Google glitch. Nigeria and Botswana are pretty hot, and I had never experienced snow so the thought of -37F weather didn't seem real. I later found out that was pretty normal for a late December in Minot.
Before I left for Minot, ND my mom assumed that it may be difficult for a new international student from Africa to get her hair braided, so I got micro cornrows done which are meant to last a while. I loved it. It meant I could ignore my hair while settling in. I barely moisturized and probably left the cornrows in for 2 months. When I eventually took it out in the spring of 2010, my hair was fine. Nothing seemed to phase it.
I arrived in Minot ND on December 30 2009 to a very quiet dorm. It was built in 1930 and felt kinda creepy at night because the old vents in the hallway made a funny creaking noise. Everyone else was gone except 2 international students who didn’t go home for the holidays. Life in Minot was the first time I was exposed to 24-7 internet connection. This exposed me to the world of Youtube makeup and Black Hair Media. The natural hair community on Youtube was just gaining steam and I was enamoured by unique braid styles, half wig, and more. I watched hours of content from Ateeyaa, UloveMegz, Makeupd0ll, and Jackie Aina. Around this time, I met my friend Rita who was an amazing hairstylist. The combination of not wanting to relax my hair myself and having a friend who could braid my hair into unique styles, meant I started to rely less on relaxers and more on what was supposed to be protective styling. As I stated above, I read providing much care to my hair while it was in these styles.
Over the course of 2 years, I transitioned to natural hair, without a big chop. My hair was quite healthy so as my hair grew out I trimmed the relaxed edges.Taking care of my natural hair is not something I was familiar with. My hair was still as thick as it was during my childhood, so I tried to avoid the pain of combing it by constantly wearing braids - either having a friend braid it for me or doing my own box braids. Here’s what my flat ironed hair looked like just after my transition phase in 2011.
From 2011 - 2018, my hair hasn't seen much progress. Although my hair has gotten much thicker, I am still past collarbone length and almost at nipple length. I kept my hair in braids almost exclusively without much care for what's underneath. My hair is still thick but is still pretty much the same length it was in 2011. Hair stylists still think it's impressive and the lady's (fellow customers) at the salon marvel as well. But I know it could be better. In 2018, I had a scary moment after getting super tight braids. I left it in for around 6 weeks and this led to severe breakage.
After that incident, I made the decision to be very intentional with my hair. What’s been working quite well is washing and deep conditioning with heat every 7-10 days. I trim every 6 months or so. I also tried a rice wash, which strengthened my hair. The last time I went for my trim appointment, my hair stylist remarked at how much stronger and thicker my hair had gotten. I’m not too sure how my hair reacts to protein, still experimenting with it.
I hope to share more of my hair care journey on Bisbi Hair and Skin. In my next post, I'll review my favorite hair products and what I've found out in years of hair research.
Stay tuned :)